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Night at the Museum 

Terrain took Spokane by storm three years ago. But how much more can they accomplish?

click to enlarge Scenes from last year’s Terrain
  • Scenes from last year’s Terrain

The walls were dripping with sweat. Inside an old bank vault in downtown Spokane, moisture beaded on the walls and eventually began to oxidize into rusty green scabs. The organizers of Terrain never expected that 2,000 people would show up in 2008 for their first music and visual arts exhibition.

“We didn’t think of little things like air circulation,” says Ginger Ewing, Terrain co-founder. “I remember this stickiness and the sheer excitement of that first Terrain. There was this energy.”

In three years the one-night-only avant-garde art show has taken Spokane by storm with this same energy. And each year, Terrain keeps getting bigger: more artists submitting their work, more people attending the event.

Last year the organization — founded by Ewing, Platform Booking’s Patrick Kendrick, Inlander staff writer Luke Baumgarten, Mariah McKay and Sara Hornor — counted some 4,000 people wandering through the doors of the Music City Building to view fiber art, graffiti, balloon installations, trash mosaics and paintings.

Now in its fourth year, the organization has expanded to create a mobile arts exhibition and has partnered with the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture to collaborate on two fall exhibits.
Ewing, who is also the curator for cultural literacy at the MAC, says these expansions are part of the organization’s desire to constantly evolve and to redefine itself, while keeping true to the original vision.

“There are art establishments, institutions, and individuals who are passionate about Spokane and the arts scene,” she says. “They are all doing similar work but independently from one another. We know we have this burgeoning undercurrent of emerging artists ... We want to put these artists and experienced industry professionals in the same room for one night to see what type of synergy happens.”

That idea takes on a literal form in the upcoming museum exhibit “Territory: Generational Triptychs,” which pairs emerging artists with established artists to create a collaborative piece of art. And the group applied it to cross-generational collaboration, too: “Need | Want: Matters of Priority,” another upcoming exhibit at the MAC, examines the difference between what people want and what people need as a society.

But despite the organization’s continued success, some members of the arts community have their reservations about Terrain — especially when it comes to the organization hosting shows in the MAC.

“I think a lot of people are nervous about Terrain being the only game in town,” says Scott Kolbo, associate professor at Whitworth University.

Kolbo exhibited his work at the first Terrain in 2008 and says the event is interesting, fun, exciting and serves a purpose for emerging artists. He does not however see purpose in the museum pairing with the organization.

“Terrain has so much energy and they’re doing so many things well, but I’ve been pretty outspoken about the fact that Terrain doesn’t belong in the museum,” he says.

“A healthy ecosystem for the visual arts scene needs to have places for emerging people to be working and exhibiting, places for more mature developing artists to be exhibiting, and places for really high-quality work to be studied and put on display,” Kolbo says. “A museum shouldn’t just cater to the whims of the local art scene.” *

Ewing acknowledges the pushback but says that Terrain — as well as the state of the arts scene — is at a paradigm shift.

“[Terrain is] not trying to be art curators, much less museum curators,” she says. “People have preconceived notions of what a gallery show is and what a museum show is and how you should be challenged in different ways.

“We’re trying to figure out how Terrain fits in.”

Terrain • Fri, Oct. 7 at 5 pm • Free • Music City Building • 1011 W. First Ave. •

* A previous version of this story misquoted Scott Kolbo.

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